Friday, July 29, 2011

Ranch questions

"How long will my farm-fresh eggs keep?"

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In a nutshell an eggshell (har har!), six to eight weeks and in all likelihood even after that it is not like the egg will ever go bad or rot if stored properly in the refrigerator. The yolk will flatten out and the whites will thin but it will still be usable for baking. If you have an egg of questionable character, give it the float test - fill a bowl with tepid water and gently place the egg in the bowl. If the egg lays flat or tips up at one end it is still plenty fresh. If the egg floats it is old - feed it to the dogs.

Interestingly enough, hard-boiled eggs are best made with older eggs. Why? Because as eggs age, the air pocket in the shell increases in size (hence the float test). Fresh hard-boiled eggs have so little airspace that the eggshell and membranes cling tightly to the boiled egg making peeling a tedious process.

What is this purple flower I saw at the ranch?


This is a sagebrush mariposa lily (Chalochortus macrocarpus). These delicate flowers can be pretty rare in dry years but with our wet spring brought them out in droves this year.

Do you have a question about the ranch, farming, livestock or local food?
Email me at ranchsteady AT GMail DOT com.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ranch guests: Family picnic

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My mother's side of the family came for a garden luncheon at the ranch. Some had visited before, others not but I think everyone had a nice time even though it was quite warm in the afternoon.

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After our garden lunch we decided to load up in one of our old farm trucks for a tour of the ranch and a visit to the canyon edge.

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About halfway up the first hill the truck started to overheat. The menfolk poked around under the hood. Seems when "Ole Blue" was down for repairs this winter a radiator hose didn't get clamped back on tight enough and it blew off.

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The truck was too hot to work on so we headed back to the house to regroup.

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At least we weren't too far away from home and the walk was all downhill.

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We decided to take the canopy off Nathan's new diesel truck and take it out for a spin. (Interesting note: catalytic convertors on gas engines get incredibly hot and it only take a few moments hovering over dry grass to start a fire so all the gas rigs were a no-go for this adventure.) We loaded up again and headed out for a second time.

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By now it was the heat of the day and we were all quite warm but everyone was a trooper as we puttered around the ranch. We visited the pigs and the equipment boneyard and Lloyd working on rebuilding a shed. The antelope were kind enough to make an appearance and stood around for a photoshoot before we made it to the canyon edge.

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We are so blessed to live in such an incredible place but so much of the experience is being able to share it with the ones we love. It is impossible to accurately describe the ranch to one who has never been here and felt the evening breeze rustling through the trees or waving in the grass. It may have taken me a few years to get the whole family out for a visit but I am so glad that it finally all came together. Maybe we do the same thing next year?






Saturday, July 23, 2011

Submitted recipes: Rachel's chewy chocolate cherry cookies

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Rachel, being the dear that she is, made these yummy cookies a long time ago and when I pestered her enough about them, she brought a batch to her last visit to the ranch! We both agreed maybe a bit more chocolate and cherries and a little less cinnamon in the next batch would be good but I didn't see anyone turning up their noses to the platter of cookies already prepared.

Rachel says the recipe is a bit of work but the cookies are well worth it.

Rachel's Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies
- based on the much healthier sounding "Hearty Oatmeal Recipes" article in Mother Earth News

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse raw sugar
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1/3 cup oat flour
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups dried cherries

Melt butter over low heat. Add brown sugar, stirring constantly until the sugar just begins to caramelize (as soon as the mixture bubbles). Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature. Mix in raw sugar, molasses, vinegar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir together baking soda and powder, salt and spices. Add to the wet ingredients, then beat in the egg. Mix in flours, then stir in oats, chocolate chips and cherries.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour a baking sheet. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough onto baking sheet, then chill the pan in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes. Take them out of the oven when the center still looks a bit gooey, and leave them on the baking sheet for a few more minutes. Let baking sheet cool before starting another batch. Yields 40 to 50 cookies.




Friday, July 22, 2011

Anticipation and aftermath

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Last weekend we had some wicked thunderstorms, not the biggest storm I have been in out at the ranch but we had a few squalls go right over the top of us, rattling and shaking the house. The dog was a mess and frankly so was I. It is no secret that I don't care for thunderstorms. Of course I always welcome the life-giving rain brought to our parched desert landscape. One thing I have never understood is guests of the ranch from the midwest or even Florida asking if we get big thunderstorms out here and sighing nostalgically as they proclaim how much they miss them.

I liken thunderstorms to children coming to visit for the weekend. The vast majority of storms are like the calm, well mannered child - the thunderstorm is eagerly anticipated, the rains are metered out through a couple days so that no one squall overwhelms the landscape. Their visit is so fresh and renewing and we are sad for their departure.

The rest of the storms are like the hyperactive wildcard of a child. We spend all our time racing around trying to keep the kid out of trouble. There are tantrums, fits and paths of destruction. The adults are edgy and when the car finally drives away, there is no time to breathe a sigh of relief since we must now attend to the disaster left behind.

I suppose I could see the enjoyment of an urban thunderstorm, wrapping myself in a blanket with a cup of tea brooding over life or a good book. Yet out here the storms feel different and one can feel very exposed and singled out when the storm rumbles solely over our acreage.

We need the rain so desperately but it frequently comes with complications. Lightning strikes the house or a tree and starts a fire. Or the ultimate injustice- dry lightning. In a place with no fire department, range fires summon all the locals to help, whether it is on your land or not. Heavy rains wash the fields or the roads, they even nearly washed away Lloyd's house once. Hail can destroy an entire crop in a matter of minutes and one can't help but worry about the livestock spread out across the property. The power gets knocked out and while it usually returns within a few hours, you always wonder if this will be one of the times when the power is out for a week.

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During a thunderstorm one of the first tasks for us is to go shut down the pumps in the wells. Even though there are systems in place to protect the pumps, in the event of a strike to a power pole, the electricity surges through the line seeking a place to ground out. We aren't particularly keen on it grounding down one of our 400 foot wells and frying the submersible pump. So we turn everything off, just in case.

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During our storm last weekend, Nathan was on his way to turn off the pumps when he noticed one of our power poles split right town the middle which explained our lack of power down at the house. The power company was surprisingly prompt to repair our isolated weekend outage and we were back and functioning in a few hours.

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Other than the power outage, we got off pretty light for a storm that dumped almost an inch of rain on us (us of the 9 inch rainfall area, who even last year in our record 22.5" rainfall season only received 0.14 inches in July) - the split power poles, the washed fields, road and barnyard and a narrow miss with a big boulder that dislodged from the hillside and planted itself in the middle of the road.

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All the stress and anticipation has passed, we've tidied and repaired the damage from the storm and now we are left with a refreshed and renewed landscape and are already looking forward to our next encounter with the "Thunder Bumpers".

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Italian meatball slumguillion

Today we are featuring slumguillion challenge winner Rachel's Italian meatball slumguillion. I love her take on the quintessential comfort food of spaghetti and meatballs. So warm and hearty but most all ingredients are already lurking in cupboards and pantries ready to be so effortlessly tossed together to create a wonderful homecooked meal in 30 minutes.

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Image courtesy Rachel Mills

MEATBALLS:

1 lb of ground beef
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1/3 cup of milk
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of ground pepper
2 tsp of Italian seasoning
½ cup of bread crumbs
2 dashes of cayenne pepper (optional)

SAUCE:

1 green bell pepper (diced)
1 small white onion (diced)
1 28oz can of diced or whole tomatoes with juice
2 ½ cups of pasta
1 tbsp of corn starch
2 tbsp of basil (chopped)
1 tbsp of Italian seasoning
1 cup of shredded mozzarella
½ cup of shredded parmesan

Olive oil for the pan


MEATBALLS: Mix the ingredients and then add the beef. Mix it in with your hands until the mixture is completely distributed. Take a medium pan with a lid and cover the bottom with olive oil. Heat on medium. Cook the meatballs. While the meatballs are cooking dice the peppers, onions, and basil. Remove the meatballs from the pan when they are cooked and cover them with foil.

SAUCE: Toss in the peppers and onions into the meatball drippings. Cook for about two minutes, then add the tomatoes and juice (break up any large tomatoes), cornstarch, basil, and pasta. Turn the heat up to medium high and cover the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. Once the pasta is soft, throw in the meatballs and stir. Take the cheese and cover the dish. Place the lid back on and allow the cheese to melt. Serve immediately.

Takes about 30-35 minutes from start to finish. Serves about 5.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tuscan slumgullion

As promised, here is Lindsey's winning recipe, Tuscon slumguillion, from the slumguillion challenge. It may be 80 degrees and sunny today but all I want right now is to cozy up to a hearty bowl of this yummy dish.

Image courtesy Lindsey Clark

Ingredients:
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 4 gloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 c. chicken stock
- 1 1/2 c. gnocchi (homemade or store bought)
- 2-3 tbs. corn starch
- salt and pepper

Preparation:
Saute the pork in a large pan over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. When it's almost cooked through, add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute for about 2 min. more. Add in the kale and stir until it starts to wilt. Next, add the chicken stock and let it come to a boil. Then, add the gnocchi, turn down the heat to medium-low and let them cook through (about 5-10 min.). Then, add in the corn starch a little at a time until the mixture is creamy. Finally, add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Slumgullion challenge winners

I am pleased to announce that we have not one, but two winners for the slumgullion recipe challenge.

Our first winner is Lindsey with her Tuscan slumgullion; an adaptation of a beloved Tuscan soup recipe featuring ground pork, kale and homemade gnocchi (recipe to follow).

Our second winner is Rachel with her Italian meatball casserole featuring herbed meatballs and pasta in a marinara sauce and topped with cheese (recipe also to follow).

Congrats to the winners and thanks to all who supported the recipe challenge. Who would have thought that lowly slumguillion could be dressed up in so many ways? This was so much fun, I can't wait for the next recipe challenge. As a reminder, the challenges are open to all, not just CSA members.

On to the prizes! To keep them creatively inspired as well as fashionably adorned, each of our lovely winners will receive one boutique apron. Here are the choices:

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I love the vintage feel of this yellow apron with the girly floral motif and dusty rose ties. Then again I have a thing for yellow aprons; my current count is three including my mother-in-law's 1975 vintage yellow gingham. I love that thing to pieces - literally.

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I can't look at this apron without feeling happy. I don't know if it is the little birds or the non-traditional petal colors, it just feels so fresh and cheery and bright. I adore that turquoise color and appreciate the extra long, wrap-around ties.

As an added bonus, since both winners are also members of the Double F Ranch Meat CSA, they are each entitled to one cut of their choice from our CSA inventory. Since the CSA system works by distributing the harvest of grass fed beef, pastured pork and pastured poultry equally among members, the bags are pre-packed and there is little room for customization. So here is your chance ladies to take home the cut of your choice. Maybe you want to recreate a particularly memorable dish from a past share distribution or make the most of summer BBQ season with another whole chicken, a rack of ribs, a beef brisket or a couple more steaks for the grill. Up to you!

Thanks again to all who participated and I look forward to the next recipe challenge.

Winners please email me to work out prize details. Thank you!


Monday, July 4, 2011

Reminder: Recipe Challenge

Just a reminder to anyone interested in trying their hand at the Recipe Challenge this week, I have extended the deadline to Sunday July 10th so more folks can have the opportunity to create their own delicious, one-pan wonders. There will be fun prizes for the winner.

Have fun in the kitchen!


A very happy birthday for the whales!

We found quite the collection of Happy Birthday Whales dangling from one of the fences. As I have mentioned before, the number one type of trash we find on our isolated ranch is not beer cans or fast food garbage littering our dead end road, it is these mylar balloons - floating from some far away place before they fall back to earth and spend the rest of their deflated lives clinging to trees and fences.

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There were four balloons in this collection: happy birthday, bandaid smiley face, all black and all blue. Maybe some hurried, over-worked  mother purchased these balloons for her son's birthday party and didn't even notice that the smiley face was completely covered in bandaids. In my head though, these were a gift to a little boy who had spent many months in the hospital for treatment of a chronic illness. This was yet another year where he spent his birthday in one of those cold, sterile rooms (but it is the children's ward after all so there are some posters on the walls and glow in the dark stars above the bed) and his mom or maybe a well-intentioned grannie brought him some balloons to cheer him up. Mom also brought along some video games for her bed-ridden child because staring at tethered balloons all day just reminds the boy of how he is tied down as well with all these IVs and tubes. A few days later, the boy is discharged and his mother pushes the wheelchair down the long corridors, the slightly deflated balloons bobbing along behind. When the automatic doors open and the boy feels the rush of non-circulated air hit his face he is so overwhelmed that he releases his grasp on the ribbons and the balloons slowly ascend - the movie cliche that signifies the freedom that the boy feels to be able to go home and live his life as a normal child.

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Realistically though, there are only so many cancer-ridden children that lose track of their balloons and once the balloons float out of sight, the owner never thinks of it again. I think about them though. Chances are, unless you work in a balloon shop, I probably think about them more than the majority of the general public. I am the one cutting balloons out of fences, picking them out of rocks and extracting them from trees - demonstrating the sad fate of well-intentioned, under-appreciated gifts. When the time comes to decorate for a party or bring a get well gift to a friend, consider a potted plant - it is much easier to keep track of than a balloon and even if it is not appreciated, at least it is compostable :)